Teresa of Avila’s cell (photo credit)
Dancing. Just dancing.
The question slammed into my heart with all the finesse of a well-aimed wrecking ball. Over a double-shot flat white in a trendy place near Kings Cross, a friend asked me why I was dancing between the place of hiddenness and the place of presence to people. Why was I not abiding in that place Jesus had called me to?
And it seems my friend was well-supplied with wrecking balls that day. Because then he commented in an oh-so-casual way that it appeared that Jesus wanted me to cut off some things at the roots and I was pretending that only pruning was required.
Fast-forward two weeks. I’m on a quiet day in the thin place summerhouse and I’m praying with a precious lady whom God brought into my life just over a year ago. We’re talking about this presence to Jesus-absence to people thing I’ve been sitting with since last May. And she says to me that maybe the focus right now is on the absence to people part. And maybe I need to stop being passive about that, hoping that it will just happen. Maybe I need to become more active in pursuing this hiddenness to which he calls me, the presence and absence thing which is core to my true identity in him.
So I tell her that she and my other friend are boringly consistent. That each of them is calling it as it is and they’re saying the same thing. And I grimace slightly but also rejoice. Because Jesus is working and he’s jealous for the whole of me. Because he’s put people in my life who are not wrongfooted by me, who are well able to hold the boundaries of the space, lovingly to push me back into the centre where all I can see is him.
And then we pray. Thanks to a little prompting when I start to turn aside from the flame, I invite him to do what he does. And, after a moment of nothing, when I wonder whether he’s even there, he starts to speak. He comes cutting, not pruning, and it hurts but it’s good.
He says stuff I thought I never knew. Until I realise that the ache of those things has been written on my soul all along. That I was always that person. That, again and again, the longing of it was expressed in my life. And that it was just covered up by years of others trying to make me in their image, obscured by two-dimensional construct of my own making. And as I submit to his cutting, I realise that what is old must fall away to make room for the new which is also somehow older than the old thing. And it hurts but it’s good.
So I choose it. This abiding in hiddenness. No longer dancing out of that place to be present to those who come asking for me. No venturing outside of Cherith unless he leads me specifically. Absent to people in order to turn more of my attention upon Jesus. Present to him in order, one day, to make him present to others in ways beyond my ability to imagine. That somehow a chosen absence now might flow over into a pregnant carrying of the kind of presence that is life.
And I know that in this I choose a long road. He’s made that clear to me. Not just absence and hiding but a road of multiple cuttings, removal of much that has grown up over the purity of the call to be his. There is much for me to renounce – even if only what was never really true about me anyway. And there lies ahead of me a long wrestling to embrace his call, to live into the identity so trampled by all who had no category for it, an identity too long covered with paper-thin construct. A hard path indeed and not one to take without those who can hold the space, keep me turned to the fire that burns and heals.
A deep remaking towards an identity which is dangerous…and, yes, it hurts but it’s good.